How to Survive 2 Review – A Unique Spin on a Near-Dead Genre

 

hzHow to Survive 2
EKO Software/505 Games

As you may have noticed, unless you’ve been living underneath a rock, the whole zombie craze has really overstayed its welcome and ran its course quite some time ago. To many game developers who saw the popularity of the genre take off years ago, with TV shows like The Walking Dead and games such as Day Z gain worldwide prominence in such a short period of time, it was a no brainer to them to want to get in on the action.

Unfortunately, most of these games were merely uninspired cash grabs—with little or no creative juices behind them. The zombie genre soon became diluted with boilerplate knock-offs that clogged the gaming sphere seemingly to no end. In short, the entire genre had become about as stale as a fart issued forth from one of our shambling undead friends. I mean, there are so many zombie types you can come up with—rushing tank-like zombies, octopus-mouth zombies, speedy wall-scaling zombies, acid-belching zombies. You get the picture.

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Which brings us to the How to Survive series. Honestly, I hadn’t played the first game, How to Survive. I wasn’t really keen on playing yet another zombie apocalypse title. Even though my forecast wasn’t that sunny for How to Survive 2, when I learned of its release, I wanted to give it a chance since it’s an indie title, and I’m always big on backing the underdogs out there (if they’re good). What I found surprised me, and actually managed to chip away at some of the jaded recalcitrance that I’d accumulated throughout my gaming sojourn.

Initially, I began to study the original How to Survive in order to get a better grasp of what the differences were between that and the second, more recent game. The “About This Game” description on the How to Survive 2’s Steam page sums things up nicely:

“Several years have passed since the original How to Survive events on Los Riscos’ archipelago. Now the local infection has turned into a worldwide pandemic. Everyone around the world, groups of people or lone wolves, try to survive one more day among the infected, attempting to recover a semblance of normal life. You find yourself in Louisiana and your survival chance starts by building a safe camp and becoming a skilled survivalist.

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Find water, food and shelter and talk to the unconventional locals to make your way around.

An eccentric masked stranger offers you help? Sure, sounds way better than zombies!”

The “eccentric masked stranger” in question is one, Kovac, who is a sort of father figure/mentor that guides you into, and throughout the games. How to Survive 2 is played from a third-person perspective, and has three things going for it right off the bat:

1). It’s played from an isometric, top-down perspective which reminds me of the Diablo series. In fact, it strongly reminds me of Diablo 2, a game I sunk more time into than I care to admit to.

2). It has one of the deepest and involved crafting systems I’ve ever seen in a game. Combined with its addictive loot system and myriad of gadgets, equipment, and resources that you can stumble upon within the game’s vast environs, and suffice it to say that you will have a ton of things to do.

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3). Procedural environments—also similar to one of the first games to implement it correctly, Diablo 2, How to Survive 2 has randomly generated maps that are surprisingly well put-together. This in turn gives it nearly endless variety as well as a lot of replay value.

At least those were the first three major factors that drew me into the zombie/survival horror fold once again. It also has some hilariously grisly combat, such as decapitations and other splatter-y death blows that can be administered to the legions of infected that you encounter. However, as I delved deeper into the game, I realized that there was also a good amount of fun to be had with How to Survive 2’s base-building system.

That’s right, How to Survive 2 features full-on base construction and fortification mechanics. This opens up the tower defense aspects of the game, as your base’s defenses will periodically be put to the test by wandering gangs of zombies. You can construct workstations within your base, such as foundries for forging armor, and armories for making weapons. You can also share your base with up to sixteen other players, although you can only play simultaneously online together with four, in total.

How to Survive 2 lets you craft a wide array of weapons for use against the legions of undead—everything from bone-crushing sledge hammers, to crossbows, to fully automatic assault rifles. There is a caveat here, however, as louder weapons such as guns can (and usually will) attract the undead (they’re very sensitive to sound). I can’t tell you how many times that I’ve gone through a level with a friend or two, gleefully plugging away at zombies with my bow, only to have a teammate pick up a rifle and pop off a few rounds. In no time flat we attracted the attention of numerous zombies, and entire mobs of them descended upon us in all of their snarling, flesh-rending fury.

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The progression system is pretty straight forward. You (or you and your party) receive quests, and after completing them, gain experience points. These can be used to increase both your character’s stats and skills. One of the things that I really enjoyed about How to Survive 2 is that even though there are a wide range of skills on offer, each of them are relevant to your survival throughout the game. In many others games that I’ve played, skills either become obsolete later in the game, or are merely window dressings right from the beginning.

How to Survive 2’s graphics sure are a pleasure to behold. They sort of remind me of a stylized graphic novel, aesthetically, but can also look pretty realistic. EKO Software really captured the apocalyptic doom and gloom of what a dilapidated Louisiana might look like. There is a sense that things are not quite right, and that there could be some sort of flesh-eating menace around every corner. How to Survive 2 keeps the tension high and never relents.

The highly creative folks at EKO Software (backed by the great 505 Games publishing house) must be commended by taking a chance here, and for the most part, succeeding. They took a tired genre and renewed interest in it by creating a unique spin on the whole survival horror/zombie domain. The expansive sense of freedom, ability to customize characters to individual playstyles, fun and engaging crafting system, and excellently rendered atmosphere, make it one of the best indie titles of the year. I can only imagine what kinds of new content will be released for it in the near future. But, as it stands now, How to Survive 2 is a solid survival horror gaming experience.

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SCORE: 85%

How to Survive 2’s visuals are a big step up from the first game. However, you have to have an equally fast gaming PC in order to play it at a decent framerate. So, you may just want to invest in a decent gaming rig:

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